Judging A Book By Its Cover

By Liesa Malik

Malik_DierdreThree seconds is all you get. Three seconds to make the difference between a sale and a pass on your book. No matter how much time you as an author have put into your novel, or how carefully your work has been edited, artist Deirdre Wait of High Pines Creative knows you have those very few seconds to attract attention, make an impression, and influence the purchase of your book off a shelf. It’s her job to make those seconds count.

“Anyone with a computer may think they’re a designer,” said Deirdre, “but a good design requires technical and research skills as well as good ideas.”

She should know. For twelve years, Deirdre and her artist husband, Chris, have produced successful covers for Thorndike Press, Five Star Publishing, and independent authors. Generally, they produce 30 to 50 projects a month. Five years ago, the Waits moved to Salida, and currently work from a ranch they own there.

“As people, we may not have a long time on this earth, so Chris and I work on having a good time while we’re here.”

Deirdre didn’t start out to become a cover designer. She has a degree in marketing with several credits toward an additional degree in English literature, and her first work was on a newspaper selling ad space. But then, Chris, who has a background in software, purchased a home computer and Quark Express. The two artists learned that software and began selling more and more of their work.

“With this work, we never get bored,” said Deirdre. “In other design work, you’re told exactly what the client wants and you produce it. But with book covers, you have nothing to work from but the publisher’s notes, and through them, the author’s wishes. This is a real challenge, but we like it.”

STEPS TO A COVER DESIGN

Even with no specific graphics to work from, there are still steps to producing a quality cover design. Those requirements vary for each cover in order to preserve the individualism of the authors. Here are some of the items Deidre uses to produce a good cover:

  • Ask, what is the book about? Who is the audience? – If you were designing a cover for a cozy, you wouldn’t want to go into the dark tones of a hard-boiled mystery. Try to use color schemes that the audience may be drawn toward.
  • Research for the correct time period and props – “One time we were designing a cover for a Western, and used the wrong gun type. You can bet we heard about that very quickly,” said Deidre.
  • Produce covers that catch attention in 3 seconds or less – “Did you know that Amazon puts up about 100,000 new titles each day? No one has time to go through them all carefully, so as an artist, I have to provide a reason to stop skimming and look more carefully at my books."
  • Develop a mood for the book, and then dive into image searches. "Right now, I’m working on a cover for a story set in India. I’ve asked a lot of friends for images and cloth samples, and am finally ready to put the design in place."
  • Type is important, hugely important. For a while, it looked like cover designs would be pushed to the side with the advent of the ebook. However, Deirdre said that the new media delivery system has as much call for artists as ever, if not more. “Now you need to consider type very carefully,” said Deirdre, “because you have to format your ebooks to be displayed on the new smart phone platform. She said the image on a phone can be as small as one quarter inch wide by one half inch tall. If you use a script or other complex typeface, chances are the design will fall apart at such a small size. Use big type, she said, because it truly pops in the small images used today.

TIPS FOR AUTHORS

If you’re planning to hire someone to do your book cover art, or you want to send across good ideas for your publisher to pursue, Deidre suggests these tips:

  • Take the design process seriously, and work to communicate your vision with words. This is difficult, but not impossible.
  • Be prepared to spend a reasonable amount of money for the cover art. People claiming that they can develop a cover for $50 - $75 are generally not going to have the credentials and experience to get you what you want in a timely fashion. You should expect to pay $200 or more for a good design. The high end for designs is about $3,000, but that is for big name publishers using special papers, inks, and printing forms.
  • Boil your design down to as few objects as possible. Don’t ask for an entire scene to go into your cover. It clutters the page and dilutes the message. It invites people to go to the next book, instead of yours.
  • Don’t give too much away. If people can get the whole story on the cover, why should they buy the book?
  • Work on creating the best title you can. This way both your reader and your artist will be excited.

Lastly, Deirdre said, “No matter what they say, every single person out there is going to judge your book by its cover. Everybody likes pictures, even if they’re only on the cover.”

Liesa Malik
Liesa Malik is a freelance writer & marketing consultant living in Littleton, CO, with her husband and two pets. Liesa has built on her writing interest with a long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website: LiesaMalik.Wordpress.com. More about Liesa on her website.

2 thoughts on “Judging A Book By Its Cover

  1. I often browse bookstores and libraries and pull books off the shelf to investigate further, just because of the cover art. I found it not so easy when I tried to figure out good cover art when putting out-of-print novels on ebook. Expert help is a bonus. Thanks for this post, Liesa.

  2. Agree here, great tips. I use the same time frame when buying wine. The label and winery name gets three seconds to persuade me. The goods inside, just like a book, get much longer!

    Cover design might be the trickiest and most critical part of “the window shopping” sale, indeed.

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